Thursday, July 31, 2008

What is Truth?

Is truth important? If so, what exactly is "truth"? If not, why has this been pondered for ages? Can truth be known? Obviously, it doesn't have a simple answer or everyone would know it, right? Or, maybe the answer is too simple for us to believe and we've complicated it for centuries. Is truth the same as fact? How do we know whether or not something is true? Is truth the same (absolute) for everyone? Does truth pertain to science, religion, justice, self, spirit, or all of these? Is being truthful simply a matter of being honest? Where is truth? Is it out there or inside us? Do we need to diligently seek it, or just remember that we know it intuitively?

In this blog entry, the questions are important. So, I ask again, "What is truth?" Is it relative, as in 'what is true for you may not be true for me'? Is it reality? What is reality other than a conclusion based on incomplete and imperfect perceptions? Can truth be known? Does truth matter? Is truth scientific? That is to imply that it is not known to be true until science proves it as law?

Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet, "This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man." Be what to thine own self? Honest in word and deed? Follow your heart? (What does that mean?) Sometimes, I ask myself these questions to remind myself that I think truth does matter. It is worthy of pursuit with all my heart, soul, and strength. However, "life" happens and I get busy and forget what was important because what seems urgent has taken over my schedule.

It is then I rediscover that I wasn't being true to myself. I was merely fooled that what seemed urgent to others was important to me, and truth became merely doing, with honesty, what I thought needed to be done for others. However, the lesson recurs as it had in my youth: the perception of others does not determine truth. In fact, it's more likely to be a lie, a white lie we would call it, that simply redirects my attention from truth.

What about the other extreme? Remember Lily Tomlin's character Edith Ann? The famous conclusion to her mischievous (and humorous) confessions was, "And that's the truth." Before ending the skit, the confession was immediately followed by the five year-olds' raspberries as if to dare the listener to challenge her concisely stated, absolute truth. Can we learn what is truth and not truth by observing the expressions of a toddler? Where, then, is maturity?

I thought that I cannot assert myself in a healthy way unless I'm simultaneously being true to myself. How can I serve or love others unless service or love overflows from my heart? Otherwise, I'm selfishly seeking to get some reward - a good feeling, karma perhaps - because without truth, I am not complete. But, even then, I wonder how love overflows in my heart by being true to myself. Something's missing from that gap.

Pontius Pilate once asked Jesus Christ a big question with small words, "What is truth?" (John 18:38) Jesus did not answer at that time. Jesus had previously stated to Thomas, in the presence of other disciples, on another occasion, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life." (John 14:6) He said this because, according to scripture, He is God's word. "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth." (John 1:14) Then, because God's word is true, scripture adds, "Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth." (John 17:17) -- English Standard Version (ESV). Emphasis mine. Sanctification then, or spiritual growth in grace and truth, requires truth to be learned.

According to Christian scripture, the definition is cyclical: Jesus is God's word made manifest as human form, God's word is truth, therefore Jesus is truth.

Consider again, Jesus Christ's remark in John 14:6a, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life." Is to ask, "What is truth?" the same as asking, "What is Jesus Christ"? Pontius Pilate asked Jesus Christ, "What is truth?" He got no reply. What was that all about? Maybe because truth was standing right in front of him, and yet he could not recognize it, Pilate was actually getting the answer he could comprehend. That's heavy.

Perhaps, we either struggle to learn the truth, tell the truth, discover the truth, extend a little effort in those areas, or just we give up entirely. We give up and leave the daunting task to the rare and wise persons we call philosophers because we, too, have already received the answer we can comprehend.

Wow! That's also heavy. That sounds like a lot of effort to contemplate truth and I have other things to do, like take out the trash. But, what if scripture is right? What if truth is the only thing that really matters? In the end, is only Christ truth and everything else a waste of time? Then what do we call scientific fact? Maybe just that! How do I be true to mine own self? Maybe I can't on my own! (How would I know truth? What guides my conscience?) It seems that if there's something to be learned about truth, it's worth studying the one who call himself "truth."

What do you think? Does truth matter to you? Does your perception of "religious hypocrites" turn you off from seeking answers? Are you already spiritual or religious, but haven't thought in these terms? Is it simply being "open and honest?" Do you think it's a worthwhile pursuit to know truth? How about learning of Christ through scripture? Or do you feel/think truth is irrelevant to your life? Finally, how do you know something is true?